You're Fired, You're Hired

AT&T'S announcement that it will fire/buy-out/early-retire 40,000 staffers refocuses attention on the hot debate about jobs in America.

You know the opposing arguments:

*America has the greatest job-producing economy in the world. US jobless statistics remain strikingly low compared with those of Europe, Russia, and other major economies. Or...

*US jobs are moving abroad to low-wage countries. We're becoming a nation of hamburger flippers.

Both arguments could be right. The US could be keeping joblessness low by creating millions of Burger King jobs. But the facts indicate otherwise.

What's been happening is a massive revamping of US corporate competition. Almost none of the millions of new jobs created yearly in the 1980s came from Fortune 500 firms. They were created by new entrepreneurial companies. Now many once-smaller firms have tackled the giants. (Microsoft and a host of IBM clones go after IBM, and IBM sheds 63,000 jobs. MCI, Sprint, and Baby Bells compete with AT&T and the latter downsizes its bureaucracy - by more than 110,000 jobs by the end of 1996.)

Obviously many big firms were fat and complacent. Now they're ready for global competition. Obviously, too, many blue- and white-collar workers have been coldly dealt with. Children have suffered as parents job-hunted or retrained while working nights. Many had to move out of state.

But the job picture, overall, is not bleak. Many of the companies downsizing are in rapidly growing industries - creating more jobs, not fewer. As in all periods of rapid economic change, workers and managers must retrain. That is unsettling. But it's far better than the alternative: producing the world's best buggy whips.

Washington now needs to be extra sure that states where major layoffs occur can afford to assist workers retraining and switching to new firms.

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